In these posts I wrote about Rev. William Robb, the eldest brother of my 3 x great grandfather, Charles Edward Stuart Robb. I’ve since come across more references to William’s writing, and have found an example of his published poetry. However, before discussing that, it’s necessary to confirm what we actually know about the man – and to try to separate fact from speculation.
As mentioned in those earlier posts, we ‘know’ from the memorandum written in 1880 by another William Robb, my 2 x great grandfather, that his uncle was a minister and that he had some connection with St. Andrews (though, as I wrote then, I’ve been unable to confirm that he was, as the memorandum says, a professor of Greek at the college in that city). We also know, from the reference to ’Bishop Law, Primo of Scotland’, that Rev. William was an Episcopalian minister (even if we can’t find any mention of a Bishop Law in the records, and the usual term is ‘Primus’, not ‘Primo’ – but remember that the writer of the memorandum was 67 at the time, had probably never visited Scotland, and recalling events of 30 or 40 years ago). The Episcopalianism of the Robbs is also confirmed, obliquely, by the records of the trial and execution of James Robb (grandson of another of Rev William’s brothers, also James.)
Having identified that Rev. William Robb was a Scottish Episcopalian minister, born before 1779/81 (when Charles Edward Stuart Robb was born), and living until some time in the 1830s (around 1838 according to the memorandum), there’s only one person listed in the records of the Scottish Episcopal clergy that it could possibly be. That’s the person who was the incumbent at Pittenweem from 1787 – 1789, curate at St. Andrews, 1789 – 1781, and incumbent of the same, 1791 – 1818.
Confirmation that the Rev. William Robb who was minister of St. Andrews is connected to ‘our’ Robb family comes in the record of the marriage of George Robb junior, another younger brother, to Penelope Thomson. In his memorandum, the later William Robb states: ‘I had also an Uncle George who died many years ago leaving children but I don’t know how many. I had also an Aunt called Penelope…’ For a long time, I believed that Penelope must be another Robb sibling, but Diane Babington corrected me, pointing out that George Robb married a Penelope. There’s a record of a wedding in 1805, between George Robb, merchant, and Penelope Thomson, daughter (? unclear) of John Thomson, of Hillhead, parish of Eastwood. The record states: ‘Married 15th Jan. by Mr. William Robb, Episcopal Minister in St. Andrews’.
The next step is to identify the Episcopal minister with the published (and prolific) poet, and chaplain to the aristocracy. This is fairly easy, since the Episcopal clergy records cited above also mentions that William was chaplain to Lord Elibank and that he published Poems Illustrative of the Genius and Influence of Christianity (1809, Edinburgh). Conversely, the publication details for the latter collection, mentioned in earlier posts, describe its author as ‘William Robb, Episcopal Clergyman in St. Andrews, and Chaplain to the Right Honourable Lord Elibank’. Similarly, William’s poetic contributions to The Anti-Jacobin Review, dated 1807-1808, associate them with the Episcopal clergyman of St. Andrews.
The collection of poems and the journal contributions mentioned above don’t represent the full extent of Rev. William’s literary output. The Cambridge Bibilography of English Literature also mentions two earlier publications, both from 1793: Two didactic essays on human happiness and The patriotic wolves: a fable, as well as A monody in prospect of death, published in 1822, which apparently ran to five editions. The Bibliotheca Britannica of 1824, under an entry for Rev.William Robb ‘a Divine of the Episcopal Church of Scotland a St. Andrews, and Chaplain to Lord Elibank, also mentions The patriotic wolves and gives a longer title for the didactic essays, adding the phrase ‘and the Government of the Passions’.
The third edition of the latter was announced in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol XI, January – June 1822, in the following terms: ‘A Monody in the Prospect of Death, while labouring under a dangerous Illness. By the Rev. William Robb, Author of Poems illustrative of the Genius and Influence of Christianity.’ This perhaps throws some light on William’s later life. According to the clergy records, which says of William that he resigned in 1818, due to ill-health, but continued to draw a stipend until 1822.
There are two discrepancies between the clergy records and the memorandum written by his nephew. The former state that Rev. William died in 1830, while the latter claims that his death ‘happened about 1838.’ However, this may be another example of failing memory, or the inaccuracy of written records at the time. More puzzling is another piece of information in the clergy record, which states that William was ‘of family of Buthlaw, Aberdeenshire.’ Buthlaw is west of Peterhead, and is about 30 miles from Fisherford, where we know William was born and grew up (there is a record of a son William being born to George Robb in Logie Newtown, Auchterless, not far from Fisherford, in August 1763, almost exactly a year after George’s marriage to Jean Syme).
Perhaps the clergy records are wrong. An alternative explanation is that the Robbs originally lived in Buthlaw, but that George had moved to Fisherford by the time he married Jean and established a family. If so, this small piece of information might open up a new avenue for exploring the Robb generations before George, and the story of the family before the 1760s…
Intriguingly, the same entry claims that William was a schoolmaster at Culsalmond, though no dates or details are given.
More on William’s poetry (of which I now have a sample) in another post…